Kate Bueler, development director for the Jamestown Community Center. Photo courtesy of Kate Bueler.

As the omicron wave gained momentum, one local leader noticed a KN95 mask shortage at San Francisco public schools and decided to see what she could do to solve the problem. She worked the phones and, in seven days, Kate Bueler, the development director for the Jamestown Community Center, secured 61,000 KN95 masks for staff and students of local San Francisco schools. 

It wasn’t all that difficult, she said. 

“I called on these corporations, and they showed up very quickly,” said Bueler. “Anyone who’s an elected official or public servant could have done this. My question is: Why didn’t they?”

Bueler’s efforts could not have come at a more opportune time. 

At Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8, principal Claudia DeLarios Moran reported it wasn’t until last Thursday that the school received a “very large supply” of masks from the school district. Each of the students was supplied with one cloth mask and one surgical mask the next day. Researchers say layering the two masks can be as effective as an N95 mask.

But the situation was far from resolved, even though Bueler showed up last week with 340 KN95s. 

“We are going to need more than what we have been given. So we are going to need to continue to order masks from our school budget in order to keep our students safe,” said Moran.

Like all schools, students will need more as KN95 masks are designed for single use.

“It’s a need,” said Moran. Every staff member at Buena Vista Horace Mann has given students six of the 10 N95 masks they received from the district — a woefully inadequate number.

Bueler first began gathering KN95 masks for Jamestown last Tuesday, with the goal of caring for four local schools: James Lick Middle School, Buena Vista Horace Mann, César Chávez Elementary School and Longfellow Elementary School. Some of her donations came from organizations such as Unity Software Inc. and D.A. International Group. Others came from private individuals in the community, following a series of posts on Bueler’s Instagram.

“Corporations all over this city are sitting on masks,” said Bueler. “They postponed their openings that were supposed to happen in January.” Fortunately, when Bueler contacted these organizations, many were more than willing to donate them. She even managed to get 4,000 masks from Square, Inc. within 24 hours. 

Bueler’s plans now go much further than the four original schools. She presently has 12 sites on her delivery list. “The goal is to ensure every kid and staff member feels valued and loved and taken care of during a pandemic,” she said.

Bueler’s pre-existing network of contacts has made her task easier. Her undergraduate years at University of San Francisco have been particularly beneficial. “All the USF educators started sharing information, and then they’re all coming to me,” she said.

The more schools Bueler contacts, the more her network continues to grow. “At this point, I’m working with whoever I get ahold of on the site. And so, that could be a school counselor or a teacher. And that’s how the network works. And then I asked them, ‘How many do you need for the students’ or ‘how many are needed for staff?’ and then they’re kind of the connector.”

People picking up masks from Kate Bueler. Photo courtesy of Kate Bueler. Taken Jan. 10, 2022.

“Kate’s amazing,” said a high-school counselor and USF graduate, who dropped by Bueler’s house yesterday afternoon to pick up 400 masks. “She’s taking all this on for the entire district when there’s a team of people at the district who should be doing this work. What are they doing with their time? They’re being paid a salary to do all this work. It’s obscene.”

She added, “The majority of my kids live in multi-generational households. They do not want to pass on covid to the family because they went to school. And they shouldn’t have to choose between school and safety.”

Bueler spent much of yesterday afternoon delivering masks around the city. But as her efforts go on, her network has continued to expand, with more and more school sites reaching out to her for masks. 

At 5 p.m., a seventh-grade faculty member received 1,200 KN95 masks from Bueler.

“We have not received any masks from the district,” he said. “We have some old cloth masks for students, and that is it.”

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Yujie Zhou is our newest intern. Before falling in love with the Mission, she covered New York City, studied politics through the “street clashes” in Hong Kong, and earned a wine-tasting certificate in two days. She’s proud to be a bilingual journalist. Follow her on Twitter @Yujie_ZZ.

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6 Comments

  1. Amazing Kate!! The question, why hasn’t anyone at the district, or DPH, or any other government agency done this already, is a good one I think we all would like to know the answer to. Lack of, and poor leadership is not a good excuse at this point, two years into this.
    I love these positive reports, and one of the reasons I started subscribing. Keep it up and thank you!!

  2. Regarding city officials asking companies for mask donations – I wonder if that solicitation is against City rules somehow. The donation could be viewed as a special gift and run afoul of gifting rules. I’m not really sure and there’s probably an easy way to do that on the up and up but it may be a factor.

  3. I packed 1000s of masks at the SFUSD warehouse yesterday, KN95 included. There was an entire giant pallet of N95 masks, but there were no orders for them. Do principals not know they are in stock? Or do teachers not like that style? Plenty of orders for KN95 masks and all were fulfilled. I sent 12,000 kid surgical masks to one school! Also, KN95 and N95 masks can very readily be reused with careful handling. That’s what healthcare workers were instructed to do when there was a shortage. The elastic generally goes before the filtration.

    Also people, remember about the EXCELLENT vaccines. There is a *3 in a million* chance of death post vaccination. Since Covid isn’t leaving us, we should downgrade our concern about mild/asymptomatic cases.

  4. So proud of my friend, Kate, for doing this good work. She kicking butt and taking names, and it’s honestly about time SF leadership got called out for their gross incompetence.

  5. Kate,
    Can you do the same outreach and ask companies if they have workers who want to volunteer to substitute in the classroom?
    We are desperate for coverage in SFUSD.
    I was spending most of my prep time covering classrooms without a sub until I had to stay home myself to care for a family member with Covid.
    District leaders have sent a plea out to parents, but have they tried any local companies?
    Thank you for everything you’ve done!!!

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